Record-shattering number of absentee ballots cast in Milwaukee

NOW: Record-shattering number of absentee ballots cast in Milwaukee

Updated: 9:35 p.m. on Nov. 3, 2020 

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Going into Election Day, the biggest questions surrounded turnout and speculations about how the state's largest city would process its unprecedented number of mail-in ballots after the polls closed. 

At least 100 volunteers will work though the night to get the counting done. Officials estimate results by 4 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 4, at the earliest.

Milwaukee has about 169,000 absentee ballots, shattering records -- three times as many as the last presidential race. And there were about 13,000 people who didn’t return their absentee ballots so workers had to make sure those people knew what to do on Election Day. 

"All of our inspectors were trained if voters showed up with ballots they could vote in person or directed to a drop box. So there aren’t linger ballots at polling place," said Milwaukee Elections Commission Director Claire Woodall-Vogg. 

No partial absentee results will be released. Once the count is complete, results will be driven with a police escort to the county headquarters to added to the total.

So far, eight out of 11 municipalities in ten counties who process absentee ballots at polling locations are done counting. Those include Bayside, Brown Deer, Cudahy, Fox Point, River Hills, St. Francis, West Milwaukee, and Whitefish Bay. 

Election commission director Juliette Henry said there is a two-step counting process for the county. First, they will count and release totals from in-person voting, then absentee ballots will be processed and added. The elections commission says they're working tirelessly to make sure the election goes as smooth, transparent, and accurate as possible. 


Updated: 8:21 p.m. on Nov. 3, 2020 

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- A record-shattering number of absentee and early ballots were cast in Milwaukee and it’s going to take until early Wednesday morning, Nov. 4, to count them all.

Counting started at 7 a.m., so 14 hours ago and so far, 102,310 ballots have been counted—and they’ve still got about 67,000 to go.

Election officials estimate it will be at least 4 am before the count is finished so when Milwaukee county numbers are released -- which will happen Tuesday night -- it will not include the roughly 169,000 absentee ballots.

Things are going smoothly though, no valid ballot challenges from observers. So the process is safe and secure, it just takes a long time.

"Ballot machines are encrypted… police escort to county and totals manually added and reported on their website," said Milwaukee Elections Commission Director Claire Woodall-Vogg. 

There are still hundreds of volunteers working, many will leave around 10 p.m., but at least 100 have offered to stay straight through the night and get the count done.

Wisconsin law actually requires a continuous count, so officials have to keep going until it’s done.


Updated: 5:38 p.m. on Nov. 3, 2020 

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Milwaukee's central counting center is bustling on Election Day Tuesday, Nov. 3. Hundreds of workers are working to open, sort and prepare ballots for counting.  

There are more than 165,000 absentee ballots to count and each one will have to be fed into one of 12 machines. Each machine can handle about 1,500 ballots an hour so that's more than nine hours just to feed the ballots through. 

Of course, there's more to it than that. Workers have to sort ballots by ward, assign each a voter number, make sure it' filled out properly and then flatten it. There are 400 people working at a time until about 10 p.m., then there will be a smaller group because at that point it will just be feeding votes into the machines. 

As of about noon, 30,000 ballots had been counted. There are 15,000 to 20,000 absentee ballots that have not been returned. 


Published: 9:18 a.m. on Nov. 3, 2020 

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Voting is underway in the city of Milwaukee Tuesday, Nov. 3. This comes as the city hits a record for early voting numbers. 

At Milwaukee's Central Count Facility, workers were been busy all morning counting the early and absentee ballots. In Milwaukee, 165,000 people voted early. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett says that number has shattered all records in the past. 

In comparison, a little over 52,000 people voted early in the city in the 2016 race. In total, 250,000 people voted in 2016 and this year, early voting totaled 165,000 before election day. 


Barrett says so far, voting has gone smoothly and all 173 voting sites opened today. At the Central office, they have 400 ballot counters in each of the three shifts today and they can count about 1,500 ballots per hour.

"As you may know, Wisconsin is a very important state in this election," Barrett said. "It is no exaggeration to say that every vote counts. The race is simply too close to call and the margins are razor thin. I cannot stress this enough. Every vote is going to be significant in this election."

Milwaukee city officials say they will be monitoring Tuesday's election closely and will update voters throughout the day. 

Barrett and Milwaukee Election Commission officials are set to hold updates at 10 a.m., 3 p.m., and 8 p.m.

If you still have not returned your absentee ballot, you have until 7:30 p.m. to drop it off at one of the ballot boxes or return it to the Central building on Michigan Street until 8 p.m. 

They will be giving information on how voters can cast their ballots, polling places and registration. 

Barrett says it's more important for them to be accurate than fast when counting ballots. He said voters will se two numbers tonight. The first one is all the in-person votes and the second one is absentee votes that likely will come in hours later.

"You’re going to see more than a doubling of the vote coming in the middle of the night out of the city of Milwaukee," Barrett said. 

CBS 58 will livestream the Election Day updates online and on Facebook

Meantime, to provide full transparency, counting activities are being streamed live on YouTube.

Watch the streams below: 

Milwaukee launched a "Votes County in the 414" website where voters can keep track of their ballots and the count. 

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